Story: Southland places

Page 4. Eastern Southland

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2013 population: 7,353 (town); 9,552 (urban area, including Mataura).

Gore (65 km north-east of Invercargill) is Southland’s second largest town. It lies on the banks of the Mataura River, famed for its brown trout.

Origins and growth

In 1862 sawmiller Daniel Morton opened Long Ford House, an accommodation house providing stables, beds and liquor for travellers. The first sections were surveyed that year, and the town was named after Thomas Gore Browne, governor of New Zealand between 1855 and 1861. However, Gore did not become a borough until 1885.

The settlement expanded rapidly in the 1890s and 1900s, after which growth remained steady. After the Second World War, three prosperous decades saw the population rise from 5,000 in 1945 to 9,000 in 1976. During the 1960s it was reputed to have the highest per-capita retail turnover of any New Zealand town.

A flaming mystery

In 1959, on windless nights with a full moon, a series of fires razed buildings in Gore that were owned, rented or even considered for purchase by the borough council. An arsonist with war experience and some grudge against the council was suspected. After a period of high drama, the fires ceased. The culprit was never identified.


The farm sector was not as buoyant after 1976, and since then the population has fallen. Related businesses have closed, including the cereal mill that had processed oats and other grains since 1877.


Gore remains a town of many facets, including the hosting of the national country music awards. Te Whānau ō Hokonui marae is on Charlton Road. The Hokonui Moonshine Museum has displays on the moonshine whisky ‘pioneers’ of the Hokonui Hills. Eastern Southland Gallery secured expatriate New Zealander Dr John Money’s extensive and valuable 300-piece art collection for permanent display in 2002, and also has rooms dedicated to artist Ralph Hōtere.

Around Gore

Charlton is home to Gore’s racecourse, airport and saleyards. The names of former settlements – Chatton, East Chatton, Chatton North, Knapdale, Mandeville, McNab and Pukerau – now identify farming districts. A family marae, Ō te Ika Rama, is located at McNab. Willowbank, Maitland, Wendon Valley and Waikākā are in the Waikākā Valley, where gold was mined until around 1940.

Waimumu (14 km south-west of Gore) has hosted biennial ‘southern field days’, where businesses promote rural technology and services, since 1982. Coal mines operate nearby at New Vale and Goodwin.


2013 population: 1,509

Twelve km south of Gore, Mataura sits beside the Mataura Falls, known to Māori as Te Au Nui, and a source of kanakana (lampreys).

Founded in 1859, the town was shaped by industry – a paper mill (1876), a dairy factory (1887) and freezing works (1893). The falls were blasted by dynamite to harness water for industry, so they are much smaller than originally.

The freezing works still operate, but the dairy factory closed in 1984 and the paper mill in 2000, as did a nearby opencast mine whose principal customer had been the paper mill.

Sawmilling and fibreboard plants remain. Tulloch Transport runs more than 100 trucks throughout the South Island. Cardigan Bay Road is named after Mataura-born Cardigan Bay, New Zealand’s first standard-bred horse to win over $1 million. In the 2010s Trustpower was planning a 240-megawatt wind farm at Kaiwera Downs, 10 km to the east.

At Tuturau a monument commemorates the 1836 defeat by Murihiku Māori of Te Pūoho and his war party from the North Island. Te Hono o te Ika a Māui ki Ngāi Tahu marae is located in Mataura.


2013 population: 555

This settlement is 38 km north-east of Invercargill and 27 km south of Gore. New Zealand’s first dairy factory was built here, after the sheep-station manager Thomas Brydone suggested in 1881 that dairying might be more profitable than running sheep. The plant, much extended, is now the only one in Southland apart from the town milk supply in Invercargill.


2013 population: 534

Wyndham is a farm service centre 10 km east of Edendale, close to the Menzies Ferry crossing of the Mataura River, first bridged in 1874. Redan and Mokoreta districts lie east of the town. Mokoreta is in the valley of the same name, which reaches the western side of Catlins Forest Park.

Wyndham was first surveyed in 1869, and is named after General Sir Charles Windham. During the Crimean War (1854–56) he led an (unsuccessful) attack on a Russian fortress known as the Great Redan – hence the name of nearby Redan.

Mataura River

The Mataura is the most easterly of the four main rivers that have formed the Southland Plains. The headwaters fall just short of draining Lake Wakatipu, but have captured the upper catchment of the Ōreti River. From Athol the Mataura snakes south-east, joining the Waikaia River near Riversdale and following a direct route to the ocean from Gore.

The river is internationally known for its brown trout fly-fishing. The main lower tributary is the Mimihau, which joins the Mataura south of Wyndham, and is also an excellent trout river.

How to cite this page:

David Grant, 'Southland places - Eastern Southland', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by David Grant, published 8 Sep 2008, updated 25 May 2015